Monday, November 24, 2008

Damn, We All Still Have to...Act...

Adam,

I think I'll just leave my response with these few sentences: Yes, Beowulf was awful. Yeah, this is probably just a new tool in our storytelling kit. And I thought Speed Racer was a beautiful style created from the integration of 3D and real actors.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Cartoon Network Got Old

Michael,

I completely understand the idea of using 3D animation instead of actual film. No location scouts, camera operators, weather, snooty actors who won't come out of their trailers are great things, BUT, there are designers, animators, sound engineers, inkers, color artists to deal with on the other side of the fence. The unpredictable elements are taken away but the entire cast of people to employ is just as large if not larger. So I don't see an overwhelming amount of points on the plus side of 3D films that would cause people to stop using real actors.

As far as getting these types of films outside the family genre, they kind of already are. These family films already have jokes and subject matter built into them so the parents are entertained as well as their kids. Other than that I can only think of one example and this title should be enough to show that we're still a long way out from 3D dominating the box office: Beowulf. (yikes)

I would definitely love to do voice acting for a fun film in the animated genre. I feel that passionate actor's want to play a wide variety of characters and it's a rare chance that you get to play a radioactive bug from outer space that windsurfs on cosmic rays (I jest, but I bet this is being greenlit at FOX right now). So set me in front of the mic and give me my own action figure, but expect me to go back in front of the camera on the next project because I'm pretty sure the skin and bones actors are here to stay.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

At Least, You Can't Replace Bloggers (Yet)

Adam,

So, this question is more lighthearted. In honor of Wall-E coming out today, I'd like to visit the possibility of replacing actors with 3D generated characters. The pic to the left is a computer rendering.

My costume/makeup theatre professor always ranted that it's possible. You know, while I'm against the idea, I still think it it's plausible. After all, the new Need for Speed: Undercover commercial (below) shows the most realistic live renderings. Production companies love 3D characters for ease of product development. Plus, some of the most successful films were these 3D ventures.

Here are some Qs:

So, would you play a robot? And do you think it's possible that this will dominate the industry, or at least start to inspire producers/writers to develop the field beyond the Family genre? Is that a bad thing to have 3D films in the majority?


video

Friday, November 14, 2008

Renaissance Man

Michael,

I can't deny the fact that multiple interests can feed other passions. I don't know how many times I felt like I have had a leg up in auditions when I see the question "Can you play guitar?" on the pre-screen form. Also, being a DJ has allowed me to raise money for theatre groups by hosting the events myself and getting rid of the entertainment overhead.

The problem specifically is that you can only spread yourself so thin. I feel like I am good at a lot of things, but I aspire to be great at something. Some people would take it the way it is right now and be, as my mother calls me, a Renaissance Man. Unfortunately it is hard to be a professional Jack of all trades. If I combined all the time I have spent writing articles and playing music into working on my acting craft, I have no doubt that my skills would be far more advanced than they are now. The down side to this though would be that I would most likely not be cast in the musical projects I have done or write my own shows.

So yes, other interests can feed each other, but you just have to be willing to realize that the time spent on one takes away from the other, and vice versa. Maybe pushing one to the background isn't a horrible thing to do when pursuing your main objective, just make sure to keep it in your back pocket when it may help as well.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Jack of All Trades, Master of None.... Whatever, I'm Master of the Universe

Adam,

My first reaction to your question was: in this business, we're all used to spreading our energies into separate projects in different capacities. Elaine Stritch has a great story about her understudying Ethel Merman in New York while juggling a lead role in New Haven (or somewhere not so close).

Right now, I'm trying to develop an entire social networking site for Dallas while producing a benefit show in Christmas and keeping Ignite on track for its January production (plus its new web series.) And these projects are like children. You love them all, but one child has more needs than the other two. The other one might suffer a little, but you'll then have to switch gears to address that child's needs.

Eventually every project will yield a result. Pursuing a career as a musician and as an actor will give two different products. The fruition of a social network and two productions are three different products. What's going to happen after a concert, a production, a gallery opening, every time we post these blogs? If it's something that makes us happy, then rock on. That's awesome. It was worth all that stress and time.

There are always lessons to be learned whether you do five things or just act. So, don't do things just to learn; do it because you want to create something in your life.

-Michael

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Poor Method-Actress Playing Helen Keller....

[Via Failblog, your source for fails....and this poor actress playing Helen Keller. It's ok, I snickered.]

video

Monday, November 10, 2008

Doors

Michael,

I mentioned in my last post that for a time I concentrated on the life of a musician for quite some time. In a perfect world I would have an acting and music career that I could bounce back and forth between, but that is an almost impossible task due to the fact that a musician's life is very similar to an actor's in many ways mostly in the form of time commitment.

Both require a good amount of monetary investment.
Both require hours of rehearsal.
Both want you for weekend performances or tours.

Obviously some people have done it but for a young actor/musician starting out, it's almost impossible. Not only do those passions require time, but I enjoy writing, stand-up, DJing and many other creative activities.

This all leads to the question:

Do you have to close some doors to open other ones? Is it better to focus on one thing or does each activity enhance another?

-Adam

Too many chiefs, not enough...

For the most part, Bloo, I agree with your assertion of what collaboration means. There is one line, though, that gives me pause: "Everybody wants the same thing and are willing to compromise, listens to everybody’s ideas and work harmoniously for the betterment of the show to make it the best it can be." It doesn't give me pause because I disagree with it; rather, I wonder if everyone can actually want the same thing.

As of late, the notion of what collaboration is for me has been put to the test. I've come to the realization that director-less collaborations are extremely difficult, and ultimately come down to fights over vision. The best theatre is that which follows a singular vision; what makes it interesting is knowing that different opinions are allowing for a multi-faceted view of that vision. When dealing with a director-less collaboration (what, previous to now, was my only perception of TRUE collaboration), you have a group of people creating a theme or concept. In my experience, I find this muddles the idea because there isn't one streamlined idea to get behind.

Ultimately, I want to believe that true collaboration does exist. However, I feel like the best way for everyone to make a harmonious creation is to start with the strongest foundation possible. If the opinions coming forth from the ensemble are varied and disjointed, it does not serve the production well to try to compromise and get everyone's ideas in the melting pot. Although the starting point should be something like a general concept statement from which to get more specific, I do also believe that the concept shouldn't be something so wide-ranging that ANYTHING can fit under it.

That's why, to me, working from one person's concept is a better way to try to achieve collaboration in the entire process. If there is a director (or a spearheader or some other such word if the collaborators don't want an actual director), it helps smooth out the process so that there aren't too many egos flying around.

To be honest, I have a lot of opinions on this subject, but my head is so jumbled and frustrated when it comes to collaboration right now, I can't quite articulate them. Let's just leave it at this: my heart believes in true collaboration, but my mind is quite doubtful.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Beyond Just Money

Yeah, I completely agree with Adam. There are means to solve financial challenges, and the education or the choice to skip will both define your experience in this career.

I like how you mentioned conservatory programs like Anne Bogart's viewpoints and Suzuki workshops at the SITI company. There are tons of these programs across the country.

I think we should also talk about this decision in terms of your craft. I'd say go out into the real world. Audition, audition, audition. Start to observe your strengths and weaknesses. Are you getting overlooked for some parts, or are you developing a niche?

You really can't benefit from an MFA until you make the best assessment of your acting ability. What needs to be improved? Once you answer that question, you can figure out if you need the program.

If you're auditioning and getting cast, then you probably are ok. You might instead think about improving your special skills list. I had an actor learn silk climbing, fire breathing, and magic. Is it necessary that we improve those little skills too? Not necessarily, but he did just perform in Barnum where he needed all 3 of those skills. You don't have to go that extreme; maybe voice or dance lessons can expand the number of parts for you.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

How much do you need?

Michael,

There was a point in my life where my main focus was playing in a band a pursuing the life of a musician. To be a better (for lack of a better term) “rock star” you can’t really do anything else besides take music lessons and practice your instrument. Acting is the same way in the sense that you can practice your craft by performing and auditioning, but there are many more options available for acting education than there are Rock n Roll Schools. Yet you never hear anyone rail on a rock star because they didn’t go to Berklee.

So an education in your craft is necessary but how much is really the question. Going into an MFA program is usually dependent on whether or not you feel like you can learn more in an educational setting. Some people like that academic setting where most of their focus will be spent within a certain program while others can achieve the same knowledge by attending a class once a week hosted by a theater company.

The question you asked kind of steered towards the equation of “no MFA = non-theatre career.” I don’t think that’s exactly what you meant nor do I think that is true. Out of all of the actors I know, only a handful have MFA degrees, and many of them I think are extremely talented. I myself have a degree in English instead of Theatre&Drama, although I was accepted into the Acting Specialist program and participated while at school. Is my knowledge as vast or in depth as others? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t produce quality work (at least I’d like to think so).

Overall, I think skipping or doing an MFA is completely up to the individual, their desire for knowledge and the way they learn. Money shouldn’t be an issue if an MFA is really what you want to do. You can always get a student loan and some programs will even pay you while you’re there since you TA while in the program. MFA or not, there will always be people who will have the passion and drive to produce quality work in whatever medium they choose.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Master of Frugal Arts

Adam,

I've privately spoken to some actors on this topic, and now I'd like to get your opinion on the necessity of acting M.F.A.s. I believe it is valid to skip out on M.F.A. training, but I also believe it means you're missing advanced training in voice and movement as well as meeting new ideas from new professors. But I only say it's valid because some actors won't need those advanced movement and vocal techniques in the pursuit of a film career.

Do you think acting students should consider skipping M.F.A. programs to save money or pursue a career that doesn't require theatre technique? Also, if we see a trend develop, will that start to affect the quality of productions? Will film be affected?

- Michael

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Be All You Can Be

Auditions are job interviews. Plain and simple. You walk into a job interview or a an audition room you are looking across that desk and thinking you have to knock the socks off of this guy or else you'll never be back in this building again. There's a thing about being memorable that can be a double edged sword. You can either do it in the way that someone will tell a story about you for the rest of their life kind of way or in the way that you do something so well that they have to see you again.

I prefer the latter and I try and do this in a number of ways following a set of three P's.

Preparation is very key. There's a lot of ways to do this, as Michael mentioned, like picking a monologue that would translate over to a character in a show that is being cast. The main thing I harp on is be prepared with your materials at a minute's notice. What if you met Quentin Tarantino on the street and he asked you to do a comedic monologue, could you do it? You should.

I am constantly updating a book of monologues and songs that I have memorized and can do at the drop of a hat. My goal is to have twelve monologues and six songs memorized at all times, but if you really skim it down it's six monologues and two songs. Two Shakespeare comedic/dramatic, two classical comedic/dramatic and two modern comedic dramatic should be available to you any time as well as a ballad and an upbeat song if you're a singer. This may seem like overkill, but I know I've had auditions where I've been able to give people options to choose from or something else to follow up an audition that made me seem much more desirable in the long run.

Professionalism is the very first thing on my mind when I actually get into a room. Don't show up in jeans and a t-shirt unless you're trying out for Grease. The rule for job interviews is dress one step above the normal required dress code, so why shouldn't that apply to an audition. It shows you have dedication to your craft and you take this seriously. Be on time, hhake hands, be polite to everyone involved including the front room check in person and always say thank you. These people want to enter into a business deal with you and you should respect that side of the business.

The last thing that tops it all off is Personality. There's no reason you can't crack a joke or talk to someone in the room about the show. These people want to enter into a business contract, yes, but actor's are social creatures and they want to make sure you're not a dick either. DOn't waste someone's time with talk if they just want a reading, but I've always made comments on something I read about the theatre or if someone was wearing a University of Wisconsin shirt I will always say "Go Badgers" to them.

If you can combine all of these things and do them well, there is no reason you shouldn't be remembered just for the sure tact and skill you show in your audition. Be memorable without the gimmicks and be remembered because you are so good at your craft that someone can't afford not to have you.

-Adam

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Collaboration, not Masturbation

Do you think it's possible to have TRUE collaboration in a theatrical production?
&
There seems to be a growing number of artists who are embracing the idea of collaboration in theatre. Many smaller companies nowadays are touting themselves as "collectives" or "ensembles" rather than "companies." Why do you think this is? Seeing as Ignite's full name uses "company," do you even think it really matters?


Tashina!,

So to answer the main question I guess I should first define what I believe is truly collaborative form of theatre (correct me is this isn’t what you meant). I thinks its when the people involved in the show, in all facets, director, stage managers, designers, performers, the dreaded producer, and of course our oh so fantastic audiences are all unified, from the pitch to closing, in making the show. Everybody wants the same thing and are willing to compromise, listens to everybody’s ideas and work harmoniously for the betterment of the show to make it the best it can be. That doesn’t mean they all have to like each other outside of protective realm of the theatre, but that they are willing to put aside their difference and work together or, dare I say, collaborate for the sake of the art.

Do you see it often? No. Is it likely to happen? No. But is it possible? Yes!
I have been lucky in my lifetime to have worked on one collaborative piece, in which everybody gave their all, was positive from start to finish, nobody fought or squabbled about things, and things got accomplished (for more information about this project entitled llama drama, contact Heifer International http://www.heifer.org/site/c.edJRKQNiFiG/b.1493253/# or Lauren Gunderson http://www.laurengunderson.com/ ).

Unfortunately we live in a very individualistic society, we are taught from young “my way is the right way” that focuses so much on the individual that the whole tends to get compromised for the part. Here pursuing my craft at the University of North Texas, I have noticed within the theatre department more people are so concerned with themselves ( i.e. their designs, their role, their direction)that they tend to not collaborate with each other leading to a sense of disharmony within the play, which is sometimes very evident and can turn a show with potential into a travesty.

If for a couple of weeks people can put their egos and need to be seen aside that collaborative theatre which dreams are on, can be achieved.
And to answer the other question, I think many theatre companies are changing their names because of two different reason.

a) They don’t want to be seen as these massive regional Theatre companies, who fly in actors from New York, and stage big time musicals with huge budgets. Those companies are, dare I say, becoming seen as the Wal-mart of theatre. Big timey corporations about making money rather than trying to create art. Don’t get me wrong, not all big regional theatre are about that. You can notice that even the bigger ones still have small projects about exposing art and creativity to the masses( Dallas theatre center DaVerse lounge http://www.dallastheatercenter.org/Page.aspx?Doc_ID=1752 , the Alliance theatre company’s Collision project http://www.alliancetheatre.org/newplay.aspx?id=36 )

b) Because that is what they are. They aren’t a company. They are an ensemble, or a collaborative group dedicating to trying to create collaborative style theatre which encorporates the entire company and not just select members. A group of hard working, dedicated artists who came together and want their artwork to reflect that, and thusly their name.
I hope that answers everything. It should cuz it took me forever to fucking write.
~Bloo

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Being Memorable (or I couldn't think of a good title after accidentally clicking the publish button...)

Adam,

I think it's important to consider the time-length a gift. It's a chance to adjust my initial impression of you walking in the room. By that I mean when you enter the space, I'm naturally going to assess your look. This guy looks too tough for this part; that woman looks too plump to play Martha, and too old to play Honey. But then you get the chance to readjust my preconceptions of these characters.

1 minute monologues can reveal a lot about your craft. The first thing I'm going to find out: your choice of monologue. Is it relevant? Were you smart enough to choose a monologue that allows me to envision you in my play. A male auditioning for Streetcar's Stanley would be smart to do a monologue from Shanley's Danny in the Deep Blue Sea or Miller's A View from the Bridge.

Also choose a monologue with levels. The best monologues have a moment when the character discovers something that changes the tone. If an audition is a microcosm of a full performance, show me you can navigate through beats. That impresses me more than a monologue with one emotion.

Show a beginning, middle, and end. I'm certainly not the first to make this point. It's clean and sharp to show a beat before your first word. This isn't a term paper - no need for an attention getter. You're in the middle of the room, my attention's on you. Also, once you finish, give it a second to resonate in the room. That's a perfect package in my mind.

Now, Adam, you bring up cattle calls. There are success stories about actors being loud in a unique way to grab the part, but I say keep it simple. Show your absolute best during your tiny share of time. You can never guess what will catch the interest of a director in a cattle call. It's what it is: a haystack with a few needles. You're either what I'm looking for, or you're hay...or cattle...I don't know...but being the loudest won't necessarily get you picked by me.

I think 3 people have told me that they knew a large black man who sang "I Feel Pretty" and got the part. In fact, I think I read it in a book too. I think it demonstrated that he could handle the text against the challenges of type. If you're going to think outside of the box, make it good. Otherwise it's annoying and a waste of time.

-Michael

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Actor's Four-Letter Word

There's a joke told by the late great Mitch Hedberg that rings all too true.

"You know what keeps me from acting? Auditions..."

It's all too true, because if you can't make an impression in that less than five minute slot, you're toast. It's especially hard when competing in a cattle call type audition with a hundred(s) of other actors. So here's my question for this week.

What is the best way to make an impression in an audition room/What do you want to see or has impressed you in an audition room before?

-Adam

Collaboration

Bloo,

You bringing up Blank Line Collective reminded me of a question I've been pondering for some time now. There seems to be a growing number of artists who are embracing the idea of collaboration in theatre. Many smaller companies nowadays are touting themselves as "collectives" or "ensembles" rather than "companies." Why do you think this is? Seeing as Ignite's full name uses "company," do you even think it really matters?

Wait... that's not my real question. (Although you can answer it if you like.) What I really wanted to ask is this: do you think it's possible to have TRUE collaboration in a theatrical production? I have some thoughts on this, but rather than press them on you, I'll let you answer first.

-Tashina

Sunday, October 26, 2008

I get by with a little help from my.....audience!

Tashina,
I really like your response and agree with it. The audience is one of the most important elements to any show and it’s always good to try and keep the audience engaged and “participating”. In fact one of the things that drew me to the Blank Line Collective ( for more information see www.blanklinecollective.com ) was a particular part of their vision statement. “We do not want our audience to sit back; we want them to sit forward.”

In the end the best shows depend on the audiences reactions to what they are seeing not the type of stage it’s on. Its funny how sometimes a theatre can get so caught up in the business of theatre that they seem to care more about the audiences money, and not about giving the audience their money’s worth, so to speak. Story telling in all of its forms depends primarily on the fact that the story needs to be heard, otherwise why tell the story in the first place.

~Bloo

Friday, October 24, 2008

Sorry, Seth Godin.

Adam,

After reading your post and rereading Godin's post, I realized that he doesn't talk about connections. In Godin's world, we're doomed in those jobs. We gain nothing from them. You get it. These jobs are learning opportunities, and they're prime spots to make connections.

I think it's important to note something else about these jobs: real world experience. College programs can't teach you everything about the business. Budgeting is a major point. Ignite might want to produce a new playwright's work, but the budget doesn't allow it. When you're inside the organization, you learn about these types of decisions.

So just ignore Godin. He's a brilliant marketer, but this business is about connections and insight. Get a job at theatre or agency, and make friends. I know many professionals that started in another part of the industry, but they made the right friendships to launch them into new jobs.

Plus...a person might actually like his or her job. Who knows?

- Michael

Thursday, October 23, 2008

To Proscenium or Not To Proscenium

What are some ways you can think of to change the image of theatre, so that audiences see that real art can go beyond the procenium?

First, I find it interesting that you capitalized "theatre" in your preface to the question. That's exactly how most people see it - Theatre is the big Broadway musical, the well-known play, the money-maker. The rough, raw art that comes from smaller companies is theatre. There's a hierarchy to the system of theatre - of all art - that ultimately comes down to money. You're a viable artist if you make money, a struggling one if you don't. What's interesting about the posts Michael and Adam have been writing is that those questions too come down to money. Why is that? Because artists, particularly upstarts, are always looking to stay ahead of the financial tsunami that is threatening to come down on them. Whether you are an actor looking for the next paying role, a technician trying to find a job in the field, or a small theatre company looking for funds, money is always a factor.

But I digress. I could bitch about money all day - except that's not the question.

Rather than ask how to get the audience to think outside the proscenium box, a more important question must be answered: what is the role of the audience? Now, this is not a new question; Artaud asked it (first? I'm not sure), and Grotowski executed it. When creating theatre, I find this question to be of utmost importance - if it's not the first question you address... well, then I have nothing else to say to you. Kidding! But seriously, it should at the forefront of your mind as a theatre creator.

Through this question, the idea of staging can often be answered. If you're doing a piece on, say, group therapy, then perhaps you want to put the audience in the round, as if they are a part of the therapy session. Or maybe you want to keep a wall between the piece and the audience - giving the idea that the audience plays the role of observers (giving the idea of psychiatrists watching through a two-way mirror).

The point is not WHERE you place the audience; the point is HOW you want the audience to participate in the show. By "participate," I don't mean that you have to do some hardcore audience participation business with each show. I just mean that you should find the best way to keep your audience engaged and interested in the show.

Nowadays, when you look at big money-makers in the theatre, they are engaging their audience. How? By rehashing popular plays and producing over-the-top musicals (which most often rehash popular music). And then there are the other, less flashy, yet still successful productions - think of August: Osage County, Passing Strange, etc. - that are also engaging the audience. While some of that success can be attributed to critical raves and theatre awards, I believe - nay, hope - that they are also looking at the question I posed above.

What keeps theatre alive and viable in this ever-evolving technological age is it relation to the audience. People come to the theatre to EXPERIENCE what's happening mere feet away from them. So do a proscenium show, or do a thrust show (you know, 3/4 stage... not a porn show - unless you really want to do a porn show, in which case that's between you and your city's ordinances)... just make sure you know WHY people need to come and see it. If you can't answer that question, you have a bigger problem than how to stage your production.

There's a joke some friends and I made up a while ago: "If people put on a play in the woods, and no one's there to see it, did they really put on a play?" Obviously, it's a stupid joke, and I'm embarrassed to admit I took part in it - but the point's there. Movies will still play if no one's in the theater. Music will still blare over speakers even in there's no one in the room to hear. But if you don't have an audience for your show, would you still perform? Always remember that your audience is most important, and no matter how avant-garde your piece may be, your audience will (hopefully) still be there with you at the end if you've kept them in mind every step of the way.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A foot in the door still puts you in the door...

The question Michael posed this week is a good one; however, that article itself was a little unsettling to me.

What I got from the article, in the barest and most simplified version I can put it, was “Don’t quit your day job. You won’t be able to do what you love as a career. If you do you’ll hate yourself. Have fun doing Oliver Jr. the rest of your life.” Like I said, super simplified. Mr. Godin does go back and forth between the success stories and the failures, but he really focuses on the negative.

Of course any actor trying to make acting his career will find himself doing some things that he doesn’t necessarily want to do. If you ever happen to watch the show Entourage on HBO, this problem comes up a lot when the main character has to choose between fighting for a project he really wants, but may not get, or doing a fluff film like Benji set in Alaska for the paycheck. It doesn’t necessarily “bastardize” his art, as Mr. Godin puts it, if he chooses to do the fluff film, it just helps him live to fight another day for his passion projects that come in the future.

Now the main question Michael put forth is whether or not a writer should take a script reading position or an actor helps in a casting office to get their foot in the door? I have said it and will say it many times through these postings: do anything you think is worthwhile to garner exposure and experience.

There are many reasons these positions could be beneficial to an artistic person. From the actor point of view, if I started working for Claire Simon Casting (a prominent Chicago casting agent) I would be able to see almost exactly what they see day in and day out. Who they hired, who they didn’t, what they liked about this person, what fatal flaw this person did to not get hired, all of these things I can see or hear about while working in that office. Everything I learn there I can apply to the way I handle myself in an audition. Just by being there I am improving my own knowledge and skills.

If the learning experience isn’t enough reason to take the job, the relationship certainly is. Almost any person in the arts knows that it’s not always what you know, it’s who you know. If you need any more proof of that sentiment just watch a Paris Hilton movie and you’ll realize that there is no way that she was hired on her acting skills. Hopefully after working with someone who is so connected in the Chicago arts scene I could maybe benefit from one or two of those connections. Whether it’s a photographer friend of theirs who can help me with cheap headshots or being considered for an actual part, it is all beneficial to my career.

The last benefit to working for an artistic place such as that would be just the overall understanding of being in the arts world. The hardest thing I have to face between having a money making job and trying to make it as an actor is scheduling. I think a casting agent would be far more understanding if you had to take a little bit longer lunch for an audition than your manager at Happy McFunnerton’s Kid Party Palace. The casting agent’s success depends on people like me doing that exact thing while the other job just wants you back in the damn mouse suit. I’m not trying to put down the general public, but people involved in the arts “get it” way more than many other people do.

Overall when considering a position like this that is closely related to your craft but isn’t it exactly, remember that this business is all about playing the game. It’s very hard to do things like Heath Ledger did (R.I.P.). He was a fantastic actor that said no to films over and over again until he chose great projects he wanted to do. Yet still he had to do A Knight’s Tale to even put himself in the position to be considered for a project to say no to. Do what you have to do to get ahead sometimes so that you can do what you want when you are ahead.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Question???

So here is a question to ponder.....

When most people think of Theatre, they tend to think of either high school plays, community theatre, or big broadway musicals. Now the one thing that ties them all together is that they are all usually on a proscenium style stage.

What are some ways you can think of to change the image of theatre, so that audiences see that real art can go beyond the procenium?

Monday, October 20, 2008

A Foot in the Door

Adam,

So I read this post by Seth Godin entitled Maybe You Can't Make Money Doing What You Love. Mr. Godin explores how some get stuck in the wrong spot of their industry. I have the skills to land a job in a box office, but it's not playwriting.

I'd have a more stable income flow, but it's not what I love.

Here's my question:
Should an actor consider it a foot-in-the-door to apply for non-artistic jobs at local theaters? Playwrights are told that we should apply for play reading jobs as a foot-in-the-door at literary departments of theaters. Is the same effort beneficial for an actor to be in that non-artistic job such as marketing or casting?

-Michael

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Unprofessional Craig's List

Adam,

I completely agree with you that Craig's List is a fantastic tool. In the past, Craig's List helped us find set pieces, build connections, and hire vendors. I just bought some cheap school desks via Craig's List for Ignite's next production. So, all theatres should seriously consider Craig's List a great resource.

The exception is the talent section. I am pleased we have found great artists like Adam. I posted a notice for a choreographer, and I recieved an excellent responses. For instance a professional burlesque choreographer with off-broadway experience sent an email, and I also heard from a visiting professor of dance at SMU.

Those are the success stories. Believe me, there is even more failure.

Most other people are just simply unprofessional. I don't consider anyone a viable candidate if they lack a strong letter of interest, a resume, or at least a website. One person responded to our Connections Project (Boston) post with "i am an actress." No real name...just an email...and that she acts... We all know the process when we're at an audition: dress in professional clothing that you can move in, and bring your resume and headshot. A professional first impression reflects your work ethic and seriousness, and I've only seen 3 good examples from Craig's List respondents.

I believe that the posts need to be professional, too. Most aren't. This is probably why it's a bigger risk for actors.

My time is never wasted because I benefit from having a large talent pool. An actor's time is wasted because you might be committing to 4 weeks of hell. This is slightly true of any job in this business, but the nature of Craig's List can make things worse.

Some posts just don't share enough about the theatre or production company. Here's an example of a company posting just the role requirements. The respondent knows nothing about this company's quality.

Professional theatres need to post on Craig's List. We may not get the most professional actors, but that's ok. We need to establish a presence. In my opinion, Backstage.com is the best resource for both parties, but theatre should be at the community level. (Plus a subscription to Backstage is pricey.) Perhaps the next step is to develop a Craig's List etiquette for audition notices. Otherwise, Craig's List will be where you hire porn stars...

-Michael

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Waiting for Righty

NY Times reporter Patricia Cohen investigates the lack of conservative/Republican plays.

At one point we hear from a conservative playwright, Jonathan Reynolds, who complains that artistic directors are biased towards liberal-slanted plays. That sounds dead on.

There is an overwhelming presence of Democratic to Left-Leaning Centrist beliefs amongst artists. These beliefs, rightly so, fuel our art. We can express our world views into the tangible, giving audiences a new means of processing tough issues.

But half of our culture is abandoned. Agree or disagree, conservative views and principals complete the political nature of our country. The balance between liberal and conservative ideologies in art creates a discourse. That conversation is so important to progress and 21st century politics because we need to address these issues like adults.

If we ignore conservatism in our art, we're just preaching to the choir. It's easy to win an audience that's already on your side. It's tougher to argue both points, tougher to bring in this other side into your play.

That being said, it's still important to address issues of human rights. A piece like Laramie Project of course rallies us against hate. It is not a liberal or conservative perspective to protect rights and promote equality. There are enough plays about Bush; let's create theatre that targets oppression.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

You Get What You Pay For

First and foremost, thank you to Michael and the rest of Ignite for coming up with and supporting such an interesting project. I’m happy to participate and hopefully will provide some interesting dialogue for the readers to think about and, with any luck, comment on.

With that being said, the whole catalyst to why I am here writing for The Connection Project today is due to me responding to a craigslist ad that Michael posted in the talent section of Chicago. I’ll admit; I may be a little bit of a craigslist addict. I’ve found an apartment, a bike, a job, a band and music equipment all on the website, so it has proven extremely useful for me in the past. So why would I question whether or not craigslist is a viable source to find an acting (or a writing) gig online?

Well, I believe the old saying “You get what you pay for” is very true in this instance.

I believe that the person doing the posting in the talent section has a slight advantage over the whole situation, since the most they are putting on the line is their time. The first line of defense is already set through the wall of the internet. If the casting director who posts the ad gets nothing but sub par responses, they are not required to respond or allow the person who has submitted an audition. It would be quite discouraging to get hundreds of awful responses, but all that is really lost, is time.

Even if there wasn’t an initial screening, there still is not much else on the table to lose, except possibly one’s sanity. We’ve all seen American Idol’s casting specials where the weird, wild and wacky are put on parade in front of the cameras and judges to display just how absolutely horrendous they are at their craft. Well when a show as popular as Idol posts their auditions, they are going to get a wide variety of “talent” showing up at the front door. The same thing will happen to any theater that post their audition notices to the general public, like on craigslist.

The reason I say “you get what you pay for” rings true is because there are so many other outlets for casting that may cost a little cash, but makes the time spent on the project so much more worthwhile. Since craigslist is free, anyone can submit to a post. However, if the theater decides to use reputable talent sources or trade papers such as Actor’s Access and PerformInk, the most reputable arts paper here in Chicago, the talent that submits will be of much better caliber than the general public.

I say this because professional actors and agents use these resources and usually have to pay as well to read or submit to them. I’m not saying that William Hung won’t pay the five bucks to submit to your casting and waste five minutes of your life with his audition, but still, at the end of the day, the casting director still can just say no. Unfortunately, they may never get “She Bangs” out of their head ever again.

I may be biased, but I believe there is much more risk for an actor submitting to a craigslist talent posting than the casting director. I will submit to a variety of projects without all the facts to possibly find something worthwhile. Unfortunately, the multitude of postings rarely holds one that is. A true example I’ll share is when I submitted to someone looking for a tall actor (I’m 6’4” so it was right up my alley) to play a bully and pick on a smaller actor.

That’s all I really knew when I submitted until I received an email back. The response with a description of the role was quite the eye opener. The character was a high school bully who found out his gym teacher had a white sock foot fetish and when he had this information, he lets the teacher smell his socked feet while he made fun of him.

Yes, the project I had just submitted for was a foot fetish/verbal masochism adult film.

Imagine if I had only received a letter telling me my audition time, location and that it would be a cold reading? It’s postings like this along with the other scams that dilute the credibility of many postings in the talent section. I can’t say that they are all scams since I responded to a Goodman Theatre project (one of the top theatres in Chicago) that posted on craigslist for someone able to play Johnny Cash (a dream role for me). Yet the problem still remains that the protective shield that the poster has does not always exist for the one responding.

I would much rather spend the two dollar submission fee for each role I find on Actor’s Access and only receive one audition call then go one ten adult film calls. The quality and, most importantly, the security of the project will be much higher.

After all that has been said, I will still scour craigslist for solid postings like the Johnny Cash since they do exist and may be out there, but I do know that I have to be careful when making the final move. Hell, if I didn’t look at the talent section, I wouldn’t have responded to Michael and you readers wouldn’t be reading this article on Ignite’s blog today.

What do you think Michael?

-Adam

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Connections Project


Ignite would like to introduce the Connections Project. We're going to be talking to people across the country about several topics in theatre. We're going to start with one person, Adam Melberth, from Chicago, and we'll build from there.

You'll see a question posted on Monday from either Adam or myself, Michael. This week I'll be asking the question. Adam will answer on Wednesday, sharing his experiences in Chicago as an actor and a writer. Then I will respond on Friday. We'll then switch roles, and continue to do this every week.

I want to begin by introducing Adam to you. He's a great guy alone for joining this project, but he's also perfect for the job. He's young, a blogger, and a new voice in theatre. He's accomplished many things such as national tours with bands, writing for nationally distributed magazines and many theatre credits to his name. In other words, he knows what he's talking about.

You can learn more about Adam at his site AdamMelberth.com.

I met Adam through Craig's List in the talent section. This is an important detail because it'll bring us to our first question:

Do you post/answer theater ads on craigslist, and does the quality of production/talent received seem to differ?

Join us Wednesday for Adam's response.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

5 Things to Learn from Beckett

1. Symmetry. I've always admired Beckett's ability to design symmetry in his plays. It's theatre of the absurd, but its architecture is methodical. Look at your plot, and ignore the linear. Find elements that create a balance in the tension.

2. Metaphor. Make your metaphors well defined. A metaphor must be sharp, or it'll lose its potency. Godot is one of the most defined plays. It's about waiting for God.... Of course that may be a little too simple, but we all get the point of Godot.

We all want to show the world that we're deep. We know. Your play is pretty deep, dude. Just make sure it's not confusing. (And yes, some Beckett plays that are still f***ing confusing.)

3. Space. Beckett's texts (say that 5 times fast) control the spatial relationship between characters. You don't have to put characters in an ash bin, but you control the environment. Lots of plays take place in living rooms. There's a reason for this choice.The fewer exits on stage, the more tension. Of course, putting a character in an ash bin leaves no exits.

4. Edit. There's a reason why he's a minimalist. All good playwrights are minimalists - even Tony Kushner. New playwrights tend to write fatty dialogue. You can portray the character without her expressing everything. See an early post about the power of silences. Actors are brilliant at filling silence with characterization. Beckett understands this.

Check out An Act Without Words II (from Beckett on Film.)

video


5. Humanity. In a weird way, Beckett has put humans on his stage not characters. A Beckett character can be more human than real people. I say this because we often ignore the truth of our existence - both in reality and drama. Beckett's theatre reduces the importance of plot in order to emphasize the importance of character. If you're going to tell a great story, ignore Beckett. His theatre is instead a compelling display of humanity. Perhaps we're relying too much on plot and not digging deep enough into the human condition (especially in the 21st century.)

In conclusion, Beckett deserves his Nobel Prize in Literature. Theatre of the Absurd had its time, and we must start creating something new. But there's plenty we can still learn from one of the masters.

Friday, October 10, 2008

A Blog (pause) Post

Harold Pinter introduced the pause. That little stage direction changed theatre. It reminded us that some of the best tension is in silence, and that we must consider timing a significant part of the process.

So, that pause appeared in the 60s. What is today's equivalent?

No need to look any further than Suzan-Lori Parks. She took that pause, and then gave it a softer name: (rest). This name adds a musicality to the tension. Suddenly, playwriting is more akin to composing than literature.

She also surprised people with scene 19 in her play Venus. No dialogue, just a repetition of two characters' names.

She calls this a spell. I think that's a beautiful description.

This is where we are in theatre; it's the point where we must decide the next step. Our imaginations were stolen by film. It said forget about your poetry, and let's just tell a real story.

That's fine for a film where reality is captured and preserved. But theatre must leave a residue on the imaginations of its audiences. We never present a complete world to an audience. It's the opposite. We leave holes and create something spiritual.

See, the religious believe in God despite there being holes in his existence. I believe in Suzan-Lori Parks' scene 19. To me, it is beautiful.

Put holes in your script. Don't define everything. That's how you get magic.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

A Rant About Sequels


Sequels are great for studios, bad for your reputation. When you direct an amazing movie it's tempting to follow up on that story. The marketing will be easy because you have fans.

But these fans aren't your fans. They're fans of the story. Star Wars fans are not George Lucas fans. They love the original 3 movies, the books, the story, the characters, the ships, etc.

Sequels don't sustain careers. Let me repeat that, sequels don't sustain careers. The greatest directors have left projects with sequels. They make the first great movie, then leave it. They move on to the next great story. Everything else is marketing.

Always get to that next project. This goes for every artistic player: actor, director, writer. Never get stuck working on a sequel unless you're goddamn certain it's The Dark Knight.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Zhura


Click Thumbnail for Larger Pic

So, screenwriting software is expensive. It's around $250 for Final Draft (with an enormous amount of bells and whistles; some which are necessary and others useless.) For the college student, with no budget, you can start your career with a new website called Zhura. It gives you all the proper formatting for a script, along with some great community tools. Check it out!